Thursday, April 14, 2011

How will I fast?

“And when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18 NIV).”

Let me say this a little different:

"When you don’t eat food for a period of time because of your devotion to God, don’t flaunt your hunger to everyone so they will think you’re really spiritual. If you do, the praise they give you will be your reward. Instead, when you choose to abstain from food because you want to show God your devotion, don't let your hunger be what people see about you. Then when God the Father, who is in heaven, sees you devoting yourself to him (not in the open for men but inside just for God), he will reward you!"

In Jesus’ day, fasting lost its meaning. It was about showing people perfection in religion and devotion. Many people fasted twice a week to show others their devotion to God, but Jesus saw through them. He knew their practice was driven by pride and a desire to "appear" perfect before men. Jesus called them out as hypocrites to correct their thinking and challenge their attitude towards devotion.

How does this apply to us? Well if you fast all the time and brag about in the workplace, at school, or with your friends and family, then you should consider deeply the words that Jesus says and stop. However, I’m guessing that (like me) fasting is not a practice that you partake in on a regular basis. If that is the case, there is something else to consider.

The practice of fasting didn’t start in Jesus’ day. Before Jesus came, the Jews were to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. This was the annual event where God forgave the sins of his people for that year. On that day, the people were to fast from food as a way of devoting themselves wholly to God and to cleanse themselves. Gentile Christians don’t celebrate the Jewish Day of Atonement, but we do celebrate the day where God forgave our sins--Easter. As we move towards that day, let's make a commitment together. Let's each pick a short period of time when we will abstain from food/drink as an act of devotion to God so that we can prepare our hearts for celebrating the greatest event in all of history--the day Christ died to pay for our sins!

I'll be the first to admit that fasting is hard. It will stretch us in ways that we're not ready to expect. However, if you decide that you want to devote yourself to God by abstaining from food for a day, think of it as an act of devotion that's just between you and God. As it becomes difficult, consider Jesus and the loss he endured to give us a great gift--everlasting life! Remember not to overlook the end of the passage; you will be rewarded. I don’t know how, but I imagine it’s really good like all the stuff God gives us!

Do you think fasting is beneficial? Why or why not?
What kind of reward do you think Jesus is talking about?

~ Paul Boelhke

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship With Forgiveness

Matthew 6:14-15 (New International Version, ©2011)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I put my name down to write on forgiveness for this devotional because, to be completely honest, it is the most challenging aspect of following Jesus that I struggle with. I think the idea of God forgiving me (that He would release me of the debts or wrongs I have committed against Him) through sending His son to pay the penalty I deserved is more easily acceptable than the act of extending it to others.

For some reason when I first read these two verses these questions came to mind, “If I don’t forgive those who have hurt me, will God really not forgive me?” “Will He take away my salvation, or ‘unforgive’ me?” What questions for God do you in regards to forgiveness?

The more I pondered (ha! ponder, that’s a funny word) and sat with the those questions and others as they came up, the more I realized that those were an indication of where my heart is at and ultimately not the best questions to ask. It’s as if I caught myself thinking, “I know I’ve been forgiven and that feels great, but it seems impossible to forgive some people in my life, God can’t expect me to do that.”

I’m essentially desiring to somehow go around forgiving people who’ve hurt me. What if I sat with God and asked Him to help me experience His power at work in my life in a new, fresh way today by trusting Him to help me do this? Believing that He won’t leave me alone to do this, but will go with me and walk me through the pain of it all. Could those desires lead me to take steps towards forgiving these people in my life that have caused me pain? I say take steps towards forgiving others because I believe it’s a process, that is often painful to do and one that has no quick fix or simple button to hit.

I firmly believe forgiveness is NOT...
Looking the other way when we’ve been wronged
Not pretending that evil is not evil
“Holy Amnesia”
Condoning what a person has done
The same as trust. (We can forgive but we may not be able to trust and in some cases shouldn’t trust those who have hurt us.)

Forgiveness is the willingness to bear the pain, sorrow, and suffering that the failures and sins of another person causes us. It’s substitutional, Christ substituted his life for ours, bearing God’s wrath for our sins. Suffering is what forgiveness costs: for us to suffer in the place of another. Each we time I forgive experientially, we know a little more of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)

What’s interesting to observe is the section in verse 12 (forgive us our debts) on prayer to his verses 14-15 where He wants us to be constantly reminded of our identity as people who have been forgiven.

Take 10 minutes and pause while you’re on your break at work or sitting in rush hour traffic and ask God to reveal the cost He personally paid to forgive you of the mess your life has created. Ask Him to help you feel His forgiveness on your behalf. Then ask Him to give you His heart for those people who have wronged you and for the courage to take steps towards forgiving them. Call a close friend or someone you trust to pray for you as you process all this with God.

Forgiveness, I’ve learned, is something that you have to first receive in order to give, just like any other gift. You can’t give something you don’t have. Perhaps today is the day you receive God’s work on your behalf and your life begins to reflect His forgiveness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How will I pray?

Matthew 6:5-13 (NIV, ©2011)

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

I've taken the liberty of splitting this passage from Matthew 6 into two paragraphs. The first paragraph instructs us how NOT to pray and the second paragraph encourages us in how we should pray. I find it interesting that the question isn't should I pray, or can I pray, but how should I pray. This reminds me that prayer, in one form or another, is a universally accepted concept and yet it seems we all struggle with how to do it effectively.

Before we dig into the how not/how to of the passage let's take a moment to define prayer. Billy Graham said “Prayer is simply a two-way conversation between you and God.” It doesn't get much simpler than that. However, for me personally I tend to turn it into a monologue of my wants or frustrations, rather than a conversation. Prayer is a privilege that we can only partake in because of the sacrifice that Jesus paid for us on the cross. We are, after all, communicating with the creator of the universe from a position of failure, forgiven by grace. God invites us to relate to him through prayer as a friend. This is pretty amazing and should serve to shape our prayer life.

According to this passage prayer is best when done in private. Not that public prayer is wrong, but I think we need to be careful when praying with others. Sometimes there is a temptation to promote ourselves, preach or persuade others through prayer and this contradicts the concept of prayer. When we pray in public it is best to error on the side of humility. Our conversation needs to be with God not others.

The final verses in this passage form a great outline to use when we pray. The outline isn't a formula for forcing God to answer our prayers, but rather it is a tool we can use to help keep our heart and head in the right place as we enter into this divine conversation.

The outline goes something like this:

  • Acknowledge God for who He is and let Him know you believe in His plan
  • Petition God to provide for our needs--the greatest of which is our need for forgiveness and a reminder to forgive those that have wronged us.
  • Recognize that life is a spiritual battle--one that we will lose without help from the God who has already secured the victory.
In what ways do you have a distorted view of prayer?
How would your prayer be different if Jesus was sitting in the chair next to you?
Does the Apostle Paul's admonition to "Pray without Ceasing" (I Thes. 5:17) encourage or challenge you?

Take a moment to open your heart to God today and join him in an eternal conversation that goes beyond this time and place.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Giving to please God

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:2-4)."

Motivation is critical to God. Jesus says if our motivation for giving is to gain approval from people, we already have our reward. We sought the nod or smile of our friends, or Pastor, or parent or ….. . That’s all the reward we’ll get - “they have received their reward in full."

Jesus offers a better reward - the Father’s reward. The way we receive God’s reward is to give to please God. So we must guard ourselves from giving to seeking affirmation from people. A way to do this is to give secretly so no one but God knows.

During this time leading up to Resurrection Sunday, consider giving with God as the only audience. Hand a $5 bill to the guy on the freeway off ramp. Give a $100 bill to the lady at work whose husband just left her and their 3 kids - only give it in a way so even she doesn’t know you gave it. You get the idea, give to bless the other - that’s enough reward.

What a great season to think about being generous in response to God’s amazing generosity. Learning to imitate God’s generosity, now that’s a wild goal. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son."

Jesus said, “I came to give my life as a ransom for many.” This Lent, fast from the need to be affirmed by others for your generosity. Give from a heart of love for God and for others.

~ Tim Saur

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For whom or what will I live?

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:1 & 24).”

In Matthew 6, Jesus calls people to shape their lives to worship God by addressing daily and religious practices. His point is that when we give, when we pray, when we fast, and when we spend money, we should do it for God’s approval not human approval. We don’t need to attract lots of attention to what we’re doing for God; we can let God attract attention to Himself through how He’s called us to live for Him. As a result, I’m asking myself these types of questions:

1) Will I live for God or will I live to make sure people look up to me? Sometimes we do kind/nice/generous things for the sake of status or significance in other people’s eyes. We need to remember that ultimately we are nobody’s savior. Do I want people to see “me” as the example for good Christian living or do I simply want people to see Christ in me?

2) Will I live for God or will I live to make sure others think of me as better than them? Sometimes we do “religious” things so that others will see how good we are and how good they are not. The Pharisees did it (Luke 18:9-14), and many of us Christians live that way today. We need to confess that arrogance as sin, and humbly live to serve God.

3) Will I live for God or will I live to make money? One of the things I think we see from Jesus’ life and mission in each of the gospels is that generosity reflects God more than selfishness. God gives us wealth so that we’ll care for people in need. If you drive a car or have more than one pair of underwear, you’re wealthier than most of the world. As followers of Jesus in the United States of America we need to ask ourselves, “Are we living to increase our wealth or are we living to reflect God through generosity?”

4) Will I live for God or will I live to acquire for myself as much as I can store up? We live in a society that encourages us to buy and acquire as much as we can attain. The problem is that we often acquire so many possessions that owning them becomes a drain on our finances. Then we find ourselves in a spot where we can no longer provide for ourselves or be generous with others. That may mean that we need to do more than just temporarily fast from those possessions. We may need to let go of them forever. It’s not wrong to buy things or own things, but it is self-destructive to be consumed by them.

I ask these questions because I want to give God space in my life to purify my intentions and my motives. For the sake of our Savior, I invite you to join me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Clearing space for God

The Lenten season is a time to positively consider how we might shape our lives to worship Jesus by clearing out distractions and confessing sin. Matthew 6 gives us a good framework for the types of concrete disciplines that can help us deepen our relationship with God in this way. As we move through the Lenten season, each Wednesday the ministry staff at Compass Church will invite Matt 6 to inspire us with these questions:
1) For whom or what will I live (6:1 & 24)?

How will I give (6:2-3)?
3) How will I pray (6:5-13)?
4) How will I practice forgiveness (6:14-15)?
How will I fast (6:16-18)?
How will I detach from and let go of earthly treasures (6:19-21)?

We hope that this will be beneficial for you, and we look forward to hearing God's blessing in your lives as a result!